Vol 5 No. 48 - August 17, 2005

Volleyball tourney gains popularity
By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

The Hess Express/Zephyrhills Beach Volleyball Tournament at Coquina Beach saw a large increase in the number of teams competing this year over last year. According to Linda Meyer, comptroller for Exclusive Sports Marketing, the company that promotes the tournament. Meyer said they had 152 teams of two people this year compared to 104 last year.

Meyer said the weather helped draw a larger crowd this year. Stormy weather caused problems on the second day of the tournament last year. She said this year they had a scare on Sunday as well, but the day started out with sunny skies.

“The winds kicked up Sunday and it looked like it was going to storm, but it didn’t,” she said. “The lifeguards did a great job of keeping an eye on the storm. We stayed dry, but the winds blew in the red tide.”

The tournament saw more participation by younger players this year, according to Florida Gulf Coast Sports Commission founder Joe Pickett. The commission helped get the tournament to stop in Manatee County four years ago and it has returned every summer since then.

Sunny skies made for a great day for volleyball Saturday.

“It was a much younger crowd this year, also,” said Pickett. “That’s a good thing because it shows interest in the sport is growing among younger athletes.”

Pickett said he thinks the venue could be expanded to a beach festival to coincide the with tournament.

“We would love to find somebody or group that would sponsor a festival,” Pickett said. “There’s a good crowd that shows up for the tournament and lots of parking available. If anyone wants to talk about putting on such an event, we would like to hear from them.”

Pickett can be reached at 224-7344. You can also call Rob Ondo at the Greater Bradenton Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. 729-9177.

Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau were active in preparing the beach for the tournament. Last weekend marked the unveiling of a new portable stage with sound system that was purchased by the two departments.

“We plan on using it for other events,” said Ondo, events coordinator for the convention and visitor’s bureau. “The county commission approved a series of jazz concerts on the Island, which the stage would be perfect for, and the Shakespeare in the Park festival at the Crosley Museum is another event that calls for an outdoors stage. We will also make it available for other events.”

The stage cost around $100,000 and was paid for by the two county agencies.

Volunteers have been instrumental in making the volleyball tournaments a success over the years, according to Pickett.

“We got some members of the Manateens to help out and some kids from Manatee High School, where they need to put in 75 hours of volunteer work to graduate,” he said. “They also helped out with the Special Olympics, which we brought to the county last year and will sponsor again this year.

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